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Can you build a "green" house in the Adirondacks?

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  • Can you build a "green" house in the Adirondacks?

    By this I mean a year round residence which is not reliant on the grid, fossil fuel generators or burners?

    I've looked at it many times and I don't think so, not even using the most sophisticated insulation/geothermal systems.

    It also calls the question as to whether wood is "green". You can do it with wood (and a lot of concessions), but at some point, if enough people rely on wood for a large amount of energy, it's not sustainable. It's only a sustainable resource when you use a very little of it each year - I don't know the number, but trees take a long time to grow. I'm sure the internet could give you an acreage estimate per home size, but I'd guess that it depends a lot on the individual property.

    I think even in warmer climates where the sun shines more this is a real stretch using everything you can throw at it. Cooking heat, hot water, and drying clothes are big heavy hitters that take a lot of energy and not something we are going to readily, sustainable go back to using wood for.

  • #2
    You might be able to, if you have exactly the right location.

    You need a south facing location with deep soil, and an all-year running stream. Such locations are hard to find!

    Then you can berm in a partially underground house, get some geothermal, get whatever little bit of solar we can get around here, and get electricity from a tiny hydro plant.

    It's tough to find a property with those features. (I live on a north facing hillside with no stream, so I am reliant on the grid.)

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    • #3
      I didn't think of Hydro! That seems like it might be a real nightmare to keep running all year round.

      For sure I had already exhausted all the thoughts of an "earthship" type house with geothermal. That gives you a base, but I don't think it's going to be enough when it's 30 below and you've had a week of storms blocking the sun.

      *sigh* This is why I keep think we're missing the big picture - we need to change the grid power or it's all for naught.

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      • #4
        "...we need to change the grid power or it's all for naught."

        Yes.

        Now: Fracking Natural Gas. (Next 100 years.)

        Next: Thorium Nuclear. (Next 1000 years.)

        Eventually: Solar Photovoltaic (Once a physics breakthrough makes it actually practical.)

        This is easy, and you don't have to have a PhD to see it. But it's obscured right now by politics.

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        • #5
          I don't know that Thorium Nuclear is viable. Some people seem to think so, but seem like crackpots.

          I think waste (unenriched) Uranium Nuclear is our only near term option. Natural Gas might be viable if we crack it and sequester the carbon, then use the Hydrogen Ions to run fuel cells. This is rarely mentioned although I know it can be done. Perhaps the efficiency (net) is very poor.

          The unenriched Uranium is viable... right now and we can burn all the waste fuel from old reactors.

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          • #6
            I think the only "green" solar is using algae. Or perhaps truly harnessing chloroplasts. Photosynthesis solves a lot of our current problems. Getting it to produce the amount of energy we want is never going to happen, but perhaps it can be a good supplement to nuclear.

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            • #8
              Originally posted by montcalm View Post
              I don't know that Thorium Nuclear is viable. Some people seem to think so, but seem like crackpots.
              That's only because they are depicted as crackpots by the powers that be, that support the status quo.

              The Thorium cycle was demonstrated successfully in the 1940s by the US Government. It was only abandoned because the Thorium cycle did not produce enriched nuclear bomb material, like the Uranium cycle did.

              Thorium is totally feasible. Bomb makers were the opponents of Thorium in the 1950s. Today, Greens (who want all energy systems to fail) are the opponents.

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              • #9
                Promising, but not exactly what I was asking. Net zero they said they only on average can be carbon neutral, so they need to use grid power from fossil fuels during the winter.

                Again if you add wood to the equation, it can work without that grid power during the winter.

                So also the rub is all the construction, import, making of Si is heavily fossil fuel dependent. Ideally we'd like to offset that but unfortunately no renewable plants are enough for industry.

                Also we'd want to consider home charging of vehicles and lawn tools for future load if we go that direction. Again it's getting harder and harder to meet the total energy requirement per capita.

                Originally posted by TCD View Post
                That's only because they are depicted as crackpots by the powers that be, that support the status quo.

                The Thorium cycle was demonstrated successfully in the 1940s by the US Government. It was only abandoned because the Thorium cycle did not produce enriched nuclear bomb material, like the Uranium cycle did.

                Thorium is totally feasible. Bomb makers were the opponents of Thorium in the 1950s. Today, Greens (who want all energy systems to fail) are the opponents.
                No I mean the people I've seen promoting the Thorium cycle are promoting themselves, not being shown through some media lens. I'm not remembering a lot but I seem to recall these individuals acknowledging it isn't feasible right now, and that it needs a lot more development to work on an industrial power delivery scale. It was worked on by some pretty smart nuclear scientists up until the 1960s when it was abandoned for a number of reasons. Foremost I think the Uranium reactors of that time were thought to be superior and the focus of research. But we've come so far with Uranium design in terms of safety and using fuel that is waste from old reactors - yes! And the fuel can be used until it is safe. No more handling issues. We should be using up that old fuel just to get something out of it other than the environmental mess it is.

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                • #10
                  You are right that the Thorium cycle is way behind the Uranium cycle in technological development. Thorium was abandoned by the US Government during the cold war because it could not be used to make bombs, and making bombs was the highest priority at that time. So it has been lying fallow for decades, while the Uranium cycle has gone through many generations of technological improvement.

                  But:

                  >The value of a nuclear cycle that does not make bombs should not be overlooked, especially in the international setting. Look at the problems we face with various nations that insist they are developing their nuclear industry for energy supply, and then we find out that all along the purpose was to make bombs.

                  >Today's engineers and scientists could "catch up" the Thorium cycle in 3-5 years of hard work. After all, the Manhattan Project brought the Uranium bomb cycle from zero to operational in that amount of time, with primitive engineering tools.

                  >Thorium would certainly be online before fusion, where the running joke is "every 20 years, it's 20 years farther away." And yet we are pouring billions into fusion.

                  >The US has the world's largest reserves of Thorium (estimates are over 4000 years powering the entire grid, even given increased needs).

                  >We have plenty of natural gas to tide us over until we get Thorium operational on the grid. Once we get it operational, the solar guys and the fusion guys have 4000 years to get their sources up to usable speed (maybe they will be able to do it by then!).

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                  • #11
                    Originally posted by montcalm View Post
                    not reliant on the grid, fossil fuel generators or burners?
                    With good siting, you could produce plenty of wind power, problem is there's no reliable on-site storage technology/solution that is reliable, scalable, and inexpensive enough to be considered "green". (forgetting for the moment how many birds and other flying things a turbine would kill, and that you'd probably never get the permits approved)

                    Anything that gets built in the park get "trucked in" and that sets you back from the start (energy wise).
                    Feverishly avoiding "a steady stream of humanity, with a view that offers little more than butts, boots, elbows and backsides". (description quote from Joe Hackett)

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                    • #12
                      Originally posted by timberghost View Post
                      With good siting, you could produce plenty of wind power, problem is there's no reliable on-site storage technology/solution that is reliable, scalable, and inexpensive enough to be considered "green". (forgetting for the moment how many birds and other flying things a turbine would kill, and that you'd probably never get the permits approved)

                      Anything that gets built in the park get "trucked in" and that sets you back from the start (energy wise).
                      I really think a grid connection is a necessity. In the future we're going to have to design capacitance or even long-term storage into the grid.

                      I think on a large scale we should do it with reservoirs more than batteries. Apparently it messes our current systems up to switch between pumping and generating, but honestly I feel like there are so many concessions with Hydro we should only use it for storage.

                      It could definitely be done with two ponds and some elevation change on a small scale, but winter would be problematic.

                      I feel like wind has a lot of concessions too. The turbines are vastly expensive, need a lot of maintenance and don't put out much power for how much goes into them. I think near farm land where you already have cleared land they can be OK on a small scale.

                      For home use it might actually be OK if you only run your wind turbine in the winter, when it might actually produce more anyway. I don't think it will bother the birds and during summer and migration season you'll have less heat demand and have more solar - but that's a lot of systems. Much easier just to have a wire from the grid...


                      I think roof top solar is something that almost every house ought to have. You'll have a cooler house in the summer (less radiation going to heating your attic) and probably be able to offset any AC energy cost. Geothermal might be OK for new structures but it would cost a fortune to update an existing house with geothermal and radiant floor heating.

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                      • #13
                        This is a good run down of various options.

                        I love the Adirondacks, but it's REALLY tough here to try to live off-grid, just based on the latitude and the weather. If I really wanted to live off grid, I would never attempt it here; I would move WAY south (Georgia / Florida for example). Cooling is MUCH easier and less expensive than heating. If you are on a water source like a brook, you can make a "swamp cooler" with a fan and wet towel that will get you through the hot periods.

                        On the grid topic:

                        Energy storage is VERY difficult, because at its heart, energy does not like to be stored. The goal is to power the grid with reliable steady sources, to obviate the need for lots of storage. If you do have to store energy, pumped storage is the only practical way. Batteries, despite all the hype, are not even in the running due to cost, leakage, and toxicity.

                        From Wikipedia:

                        "Pumped storage is by far the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available, and, as of 2020, the United States Department of Energy Global Energy Storage Database reports that PSH accounts for around 95% of all active tracked storage installations worldwide..."

                        So engineers have figured out that pumped storage is the only practical method, and that's why it's 95% of storage. And pumped storage facilities have a really big footprint on the scenery. Look at the recent furor over the proposed pumped storage facility in the Catskills.

                        So large scale storage is simply not coming in the near future. That's the reality. And that's why the grid has to be powered with steady sources (natural gas and nuclear).

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                        • #14
                          Originally posted by montcalm View Post
                          Geothermal might be OK for new structures but it would cost a fortune to update an existing house with geothermal and radiant floor heating.
                          We
                          Last edited by chairrock; 11-29-2021, 05:11 PM.
                          Be careful, don't spread invasive species!!

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                          • #15
                            Originally posted by chairrock View Post
                            We upgraded our forced hot air oil/wood furnace to geothermal. One vertical 400 foot closed loop well and a new state of the art heat/ac unit where the old furnace stood. The new electric hot water heater is preheated by the ac/heat unit. Existing duct work was used with some upgrades. You don't need radiant and if you do use radiant it you don't get AC. We thought it was affordable as we we needed a new furnace anyway and the tax breaks. Our heating and cooling cost are so much lower!
                            Right - I was referring to the system they were using in the video. They get cooling somehow - maybe it's a separate water-to-air system? They didn't say.


                            Does your system heat your home in the cold of winter by itself, or does it need a booster system?

                            They mentioned antifreeze in the video and I think they said ethanol, which isn't that bad if there was a leak. I was concerned about what kind of chemicals they might use in those systems and if they'd "poison yer water hole" if there is a failure. Is your system using any chemicals or just water?

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